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IL CINEMA É LA VITA, LA VITA É IL CINEMA: the Lucca Film Festival Interview

The Lucca Film Festival is an experimental adventure: full of guns, champagne, super-8 cameras, anti-Pisan slogans, ex-girlfriends and ex-Cahiers critics—and that’s just what happened during my interview. As a companion piece to my soon-to-be-published report on the festival, the following is a chat I had with two of the festival’s very young and very smart organisers, Alessandro de Francesco and Luca Perezzi. The conversation took place on the second last day of the festival, but the closing party had already (unofficially) begun…

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Alessandro and I are sitting in a cafe outside the Teatro San Girolamo, where most of the festival is taking place. Many of the other guests sit at a nearby table, drinking and laughing and occasionally filling our glasses.

DONAL: So… I was just going to start by asking…

Someone approaches him.

ALESSANDRO: Ciao.

He talks to the guy in Italian.

ALESSANDRO: Sorry.

DONAL: No problem. OK. So can you start by telling me when the festival started and how it came about?

ALESSANDRO: It started three years ago—this is the third edition. The first one was in 2005. I received a call by Stefan [Giorgi, co-organiser], maybe you know him? With long hair, the tallest one. Very practical man. He called me and told me, “We want to make film festival.” And I laughed. “What do you mean?” Because Nicola [Borelli, official president of the festival]… I think he attended a lecture about organising events related to cinema. So he first had the idea to make a festival, who told it to Stefan, who told it to me. And I laughed. But then we tried to organise the first edition, which was 2005.

DONAL: The first year was based around the Italian film critic, Marco Melani? Can you talk a bit about him and why you chose him as the focus?

ALESSANDRO: This is also to do with Nicola, who had an exam on critic history in Italy and one of the books he had was about Marco Melani. We liked so much his writings but we also liked his way of thinking cinema and living cinema.

He hears people coming towards us.

ALESSANDRO: I think it’s something like what’s happening now…

A bottle of champagne is plopped on the table in front of Alessandro. A hand pours him a glass. Film critic Marie-Anne Guerin, an ex-contributor to Cahiers du Cinema who currently writes for Vertigo and Trafic, points a golden toy gun to his head.

MARIE-ANNE: Shut up. You’re too clever. You’re much too clever.

ALESSANDRO: Please. Please. Please push it. Please.

She does.

ALESSANDRO: Aaagh!

He drinks some champagne.

ALESSANDRO: I mean, yeah … It’s something that’s happened now … I mean … people [Loud cackling from somewhere.] People meeting, you know…

Performance artist Sabrina Paul appears behind Alessandro with a sign reading “PISA MERDA”. Everybody cracks up.

ALESSANDRO: Was I supposed to do something serious? Because I… Because… Maybe it is too late to make something serious. I mean it’s already four o’clock, we’re all drunk… Anyway, Marco Melani was born here in Tuscany and he died in 1966. Of…AIDS. His was toxic. An addict. Anyway, this does not matter, obviously.

DONAL: What was it about his thinking of cinema?

ALESSANDRO: [mishears me] Yeah. And he lived cinema. That’s what really inspired us.

Luca Perezzi approaches us.

LUCA: Who?

ALESSANDRO: Marco Melani.

DONAL: Do you want to join in?

ALESSANDRO: [looking desperate] Yeah, please! Please.

Alessandro talks to Luca in Italian for a second, then looks at me apologetically.

DONAL: You gotta go?

ALESSANDRO: Yeah, just for five minutes, to say goodbye to Alice Debord [wife of Guy Debord], she’s leaving now.

DONAL: OK sure.

ALESSANDRO: See you here in five minutes.

Luca sits down.

LUCA: So where’s Alessandro left it?

DONAL: Ah good, you’re taking over, are you?

LUCA: What Alessandro was saying about Marco Melani: Marco Melani really understood how to live and interpret cinema. Not cinema just as movies. But cinema as situations. Cinema as festivals, of course, but also production in a way—not really common and normal to say production, you know like making…uh…taking friends together, putting and doing stuff, really, you know….creative, creative. And that’s why we decide the first year to… But actually I joined the group later, you know. That was the first…two thousand and….let me see…

DONAL: 2005.

LUCA: 2005. That was about Vietnam time, you know? Long time ago. We were… Like children. They began in January and I joined the group about June. But they couldn’t live without me of course. I joined later but I was, you know…like Philip [Dijon de Montenon, another co-organiser]. But we were really… Not important. I would say fundamental.

DONAL: Did Melani make any films or he was just a critic?

LUCA: He made a couple of short movies, and he was assistant director for a couple of movies as well. One with Benigni. You know Benigni, the one of La Vita è Bella (1997)? Crap. Anyway…. Can I say crap about La Vita è Bella or no?

DONAL: Yeah, sure.

LUCA: Ok. So it’s crap. He did one movie as director with Benigni where Benigni was a typical Tuscan comic, funny, with a lot of bad words, with God… funny, really funny. And he was assistant director for Berlin-Jerusalum (1989, Amos Gitai).

He was strange… he didn’t have a real role in the cinema… he was doing movies, yeah, and then he was a critic. But a very strange kind of critic. He didn’t really write a lot. He wrote in some newspapers but not really and some reviews but always a not a lot. And he wrote a lot of introductions and stuff like this for catalogues of festivals, because his main occupation was doing festivals—or taking drugs. These were the three main occupations—taking drugs, watching movies, organising festivals. Watching movies, of course, during the night…

And we were all really impressed by him. He was really…. He was marvellous for us. Because we have to emphasise that he had inside him the two souls of the festival, and of the organisers of the festival: the one of the underground cinema, of course, and the one of the historic and didactic movies, like Rossellini, or [hesitates]…. some movies of Taviani and movies like this, you know, with the historical situation, like Benvenutti, who is a little director that we’ve shown these last two years, not now. He lives close to here so he’s a friend of ours. And so it’s the two Alessandro, Andrea they’re more involved in the underground cinema, whereas me, I’m less involved with underground maybe, even if I like, and more in this kind of historical cinema, or realistic cinema, political cinema… And he has this two. So for us it was really…perfect for us. That’s all.

DONAL: So when you started the festival did you have…

LUCA: Money? No.

[Festival president Nicola looks for someone to give his microphone to.]

DONAL: But were you all in agreement about what you wanted to do with it? You had the same ideas…?

LUCA: Well when they started, more or less, yes. Because I told you, they started January, I joined them not long after but the main programme of the festival was already done. And I agreed with everything because the first year there was a kind of section with “movies of our life”, like even really famous movies…Polanski movies, Greenaway movies, which were not really close to Melani stuff. There were big movies that we like, famous movies that we liked people to see.

And then there was also Melani films I really loved, like [Spanish filmmaker Adolfo] Arrieta and [Paolo] Benvenuti… And there was Rossellini’s movies. So I agreed and more or less we all agreed. Second year was kind of different because last year was really underground cinema. Maybe too underground. Me, I really liked it, but part of the group, less and less. That’s why this year you see we put two different…

DONAL: You have Michael Snow but also the Taviani brothers.

LUCA: But the Tavianis, of course. Even if I think that the first movies of Taviani were really experimental; then of course they changed. The first part they were so experimental. And anyway, yeah, it’s too different kinds… And I think we are gonna, if we continue and I hope so but when you don’t have money you never know, if we continue, we’d like to continue on these two… how is the track of the rail? Which is the name? You know the railways, which is the name of the two stuff? You know, there are two? It seems like they never meet but they are always together. And in the end they finish in the station so they are in the same way.

Alessandro comes back. Luca explains in Italian what we’ve been talking about.

DONAL: Do you agree with what Luca has been saying?

ALESSANDRO: [a little dazed] …I didn’t get it exactly.

I explain, Luca explains again in Italian.

ALESSANDRO: …That’s the truth, you know?

Luca messes with Alessandro’s super 8 camera.

LUCA: How can I open that stuff, Alessandro?

ALESSANDRO: You can’t use it.

LUCA: No I’m not going to use it, I’m just gonna–

ALESSANDRO: It’s open… It’s always open…

LUCA: I can’t…Oh….hi Donal!

ALESSANDRO: Your eyes are not open.

LUCA: My eyes are not open on the world.

Alessandro wanders away again.

LUCA: Alessandro can you bring something to drink to me? [to me] So let’s carry on with the questions. Alessandro, there are new questions! Come! New question.

DONAL: One more question about setting up the festival: When it started, did you have a clear idea—

LUCA: Oh, who has a clear idea about the life?

DONAL: Did you know you were going to invite all these guests? Did you have many special guests the first year?

LUCA: Yeah, we had some guests. We had [Italian film scholar Adriano] Apra, we had Arrieta. They are always at the festival. And the first year we had this Benvenuti. And we had some friends of Melani, we did a kind of conference with the friends of Melani. … We have one Italian director called [XXX!], who is coming tomorrow too. Actually, he’s not good. He’s really a bad person, but he’s done a couple…two…good movies. But you know the kind of “ehh, I’m the director”. Anyway, he came the first year. Last year we had Kenneth Anger. Who knows why? That was really strange, because he’s not used to coming to Italy. We were really lucky because he was not sick in that period, he was free. But it had been years that he didn’t really move around. And he came to this festival. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know why Michael Snow came. Because we don’t have money, we don’t have any strong power to push us.

DONAL: Where do you get the money to run the festival?

LUCA: Institutions and some private sponsors.

DONAL: And is it…

LUCA: Is it enough? No.

[Pause.]

DONAL: I’m interested in how you all discovered these weird types of cinema. It seems strange that there’s six or seven of you young guys and you all love it. Did you all discover it separately or together?

LUCA: I think there are different stories. I think at the festival, first of all we have to say that we all grow up with the festival. We all start to know stuff with the festival. Of course, none of us saw all the movies of Michael Snow before the festival. We knew a bit… And it came little by little, reading books and stuff… Me personally, I started to go to festivals and I started really young watching strange movies…but then I quit a little bit and I prefer other kind of cinema. But then with the festival, little by little… Of course Marco Melani was important for us, because we started to see what he liked. So little by little we…improve our interest in this kind of cinema. But I mean, Alessandro, Nicola and Phillip are the group that like experimental cinema the most, and Andrea [Monti, ANOTHER co-organiser] too, in part. They start growing little by little. Me, too, I like to watch, I like to keep up with experimental cinema, also to understand other parts of the cinema. We are talking with Tito, you know Tito? The short guy who’s just left now. He was talking about guys who like to watch only experimental movies. Nobody of us watch only experimental movies. We like to see experimental cinema also as a way to understand other kinds of cinema. But it comes, you know? It arrives.

DONAL: So in a way the festival is a way for you to all discover new cinema.

LUCA: Oh, of course. But I think it’s always like this. You grow up with the stuff that you do. You are part of the stuff that you do and the stuff that you do is part of you. It’s kind of a mix. I would probably be less interested in experimental cinema without the festival… But it came out that I started to organise it so little by little… I don’t know if I could ever watch Anger or Michael Snow’s movies in my life if I did not crash into the Lucca Film Festival. But fortunately I did—that’s, you know, fate or destiny or whatever it is.

DONAL: And in terms of the audience…

LUCA: In terms of the audience [sighs] … We really have to talk about that? It’s one of your questions? We can’t jump it?

DONAL: No, I think it’s really interesting.

LUCA: [reluctantly] Yeah, it’s interesting….

DONAL: There were some films where I was really surprised at how many people came.

LUCA: Really?

DONAL: Some of the Michael Snow films were quite packed.

LUCA: [surprised] Ah!

DONAL: Like I think at Back and Forth there was…

LUCA: Yeah, there were people. But you know the fact is that Lucca is not…Lucca in Tuscany is the city more…how can I say… for example, more Catholic. This is the first part. Then it’s really closeminded. Then it’s not really open to…. [sees someone behind me] Oh! She’s one of my ex-girlfriends. One of the best actually.

He greets his ex and chats with her. She hangs out and listens in for a while.

LUCA: What was I talking about?

DONAL: The audience. And Lucca, what people in Lucca are like.

LUCA: Yeah, they are shit people in Lucca, actually… [remembers his ex-girlfriend is there] …except for some people around. So it’s really not worth to convince people to come to the cinema.

DONAL: But local people do come. Sometimes.

LUCA: Yeah, sometimes. For the normal cinema, as we were calling it before, yeah. For the experimental cinema it’s more and more difficult. Of course we have to try to get people from the outside. … People that can really come from outside—like Max, Max is one of the most… [trails off]

[Irish filmmaker and critic Max le Cain at the end of a hard day's viewing. It's rumoured Max often refused to leave the cinema at night and forced Pip Chodorov to show him films until dawn.]

Because, of course, when you do something really particular, you have to try to get people from outside… This year we have a really good press office, this is quite important. Because if all around Italy they know about the Michael Snow retrospective, maybe people can start to come. But if only in Tuscany they know about Michael Snow retrospective… So we are working on it, but I think for audiences, the first edition was the best. And it was in the cinema that year [This year's programme took place in a church converted into a theatre]. The cinema is always a different state of mind for the audience, if it’s the cinema, they have that sense of “ok, I’m going to the cinema”.

DONAL: So when you decided to have a festival here…

LUCA: We were not thinking about the audience.

DONAL: No? You weren’t thinking you wanted to shake up Lucca?

LUCA: Well, you know, we have to work…little by little. But there are some of us that really don’t care about the audience at all. Me, I care; I like people to come. But for example Andrea says, “Why audience, why? Who cares about audience? It’s not important at all.” Of course, that’s why we are so…heterogenous, so different. Because there are people in the organisation who think in a certain kind of way, others think in another… And of course this causes a lot of problems, fights, not fights but…quarrelling…

DONAL: That was going to be my next question.

LUCA: Yeah yeah, we quarrel a lot, of course.

DONAL: Every other festival I’ve been to…

LUCA: They have one boss.

DONAL: Yeah. But here there’s six or seven of you?

LUCA: Seven of us decide.

DONAL: And nobody’s in charge, really? It’s communal.

LUCA: OK… Nicola, in a certain way, should be the boss. But he’s the boss only for certain bureacratic stuff. When we have to take decisions we do it all together. So sometimes when, for example, I’m on my bike in Rome doing some other stuff, it could be “so we have to decide about this, we have three votes for this, two votes for this, what do you think about that?” I say “can I think about this, I’m on the bike, I’m doing shopping”—no, I don’t do shopping, but I’m doing something else. And they say, “Yeah, but you have to decide.” Blah blah blah, stuff like this. But it’s fun, it’s fun in the end. I work in another festival where of course everything is more organised, more planned, blah blah blah. But there is not the spirit of Lucca, you know? That’s why we enjoy it so much. We are a group of friends at the end (or we should be a group of friends) and…. So it’s… It’s mixed up… It’s a mix of stuff… Work and…

Lucca drops Alessandro’s camera—looks around nervously to see if he saw.

He didn’t.

LUCA: And friendship… It’s everything mixed, you know?

A man with long grey hair walks by on crutches.

LUCA: [to the man] And the book that he has to give me! [to me] And everything. Then, the city’s little so we know everyone. For me, it’s strange because I came back to the city where I lived for four years for a kind of festival. If they had asked me three years ago “are you gonna organise a festival in Lucca?” I would say “Lucca, why? I’m gonna live in Rome.” But in the end I’m really happy to do that.

LUCA: You have some other questions there?

Luca starts pretending to film again.

DONAL: Let’s talk about all the extra-cinematic events that are taking place in the festival—you have exhibitions of Michael Snow and Aldo Tambellini, musical and performance art events…

LUCA: Yeah yeah. We have been thinking about this since the first year, but this year we managed to do this kind of stuff because we started to do some collaborations, you know with the school, with the Fondazione Ragghianti and a strong collaboration the city council, and stuff like this. We would like to do more of this because we think it’s not good to close yourself inside cinema, you know, just to think about cinema. The experimental cinema has always been linked to video art and fine art, so why not do that? We were also going to do the VJ performance, you know, with Steven Ball and Martin Blaží?ek….but unfortunately they didn’t like us so much and we were not able to make them like us. [Ball and Blaží?ek were going to do a live collaborative mix of footage shot in Lucca during the festival. A few days before this was planned, they mysteriously decided not to and disappeared...]

DONAL: Also there’s a few films screened this year which were actually shot at the festival last year.

LUCA: Ah, this is the thing that personally I really love! Because it is like to create something that can grow out in the years, you know? Last year we screened Adolfo’s movie that was done in the first year of Lucca and he hasn’t done movies for more than 10 years, and then he decide when he was in Lucca it was so fine, he was drinking, smoking joints all day and eh…—can I say smoking joints?

DONAL: You can say whatever you like.

LUCA: He liked Lucca so he decided to make this forty minute movie, which was of course Adolfo’s…

LUCA: He shot it part in Paris and part in Lucca, and then when we showed it last year. This year we did Antoine [Barraud]’s movies and the Stephen Dwoskin interview. I think this is wonderful but it’s a thing that they do in big festials as well, for example in Locarno they often do something like that, because people…going into Locarno and they are fine you know because in Locarno you can really have a good time, and then they come back and edit what they filmed, and then sometimes it happens that they screen it—but these are things you can do only at festivals kind of familiar, you know, really…

DONAL: Intimate.

LUCA: Because if not you have to send it to be in competition, blah blah blah. Here, we like to— I hope your movie’s going to be in our festival next year. We like that people come here with a video camera and they film. It became part of the— Tonino’s movie… Tonino de Bernardi’s movie, not this one, the one before that I haven’t seen yet, it’s filmed part here, and he decided to film it. Last year he came with all the troops, which is like three people, but all the troops, plus some actors, and they filmed in the Villa, and parts here, and he has everything planned, it’s not just that he decided to interview people and just to do it, he has a plan, you know: “I’m going to film part of the movie in Lucca and Lucca Film Festival is going to be part of the…” so-called production which is not really a production. And the two girls here are now making a movie on Apra; they are interviewing him here in Lucca… This is going to continue.

DONAL: So have you any plans for next year’s festival?

LUCA: Oh yeah lots. But we have lots of personal plans. Yeah but we are all thinking about something for the next year’s festival… But we haven’t started to talk… But there is one thing more or less decided if we are going to do the festival (because we never know) is a Jonas Mekas retrospective. You know Mekas?

DONAL: Yeah! I was thinking you should do that!

LUCA: Yeah, of course. And then we’ll do Stan Brakhage, this is for sure, you don’t have to….Mekas already knows that we are thinking about something like this. And then we are going to do something Italian, probably, like Tavianis, but I’d like to do something younger. OK, I like part of the cinema of Tavianis but they already have enough. They’re famous, they’re prestigious. I’d like to do something with good young Italian filmmakers—maybe kind of independent but already a little bit known. And then I don’t know, we are gonna think about some experimental underground but in the same way kind of famous like Snow, for the next year. I don’t know: I’m thinking about Straub—but I’m thinking about Straub. But this is my idea—I don’t know if they agree…

He calls to Alessandro about Straub in Italian. Alessandro comes back…

ALESSANDRO: [shocked] You interviewed him, not me?

DONAL: You didn’t come back.

ALESSANDRO: I’m coming.

DONAL: Getting Pip Chodorov [experimental filmmaker and head of Re:Voir to give a lecture on experimental cinema to local teenagers seemed like a great idea as well.

LUCA: Yeah, it's pretty common to do lectures for high school pupils. We did it last year too. It was better last year—not a better lecture, but there were more pupils. This year there was not a lot of people actually. But here in Italy it’s normal, you do stuff for the pupils….

[Pip Chodorov, facing us, talks to Michael Snow and his wife.]

I notice Andrea sitting by himself at the other table. He’s not the most enthusiastic talker but I decide to throw a few questions his way.

DONAL: Andrea can I ask you one question, on camera? I just wanted to ask you about the audience. What you think about the audience at the festival. I’ll come over and ask you… No just, I was talking to Lucca about the audience you get, the local audience? And he was saying some people care about it and some people don’t. What do you think?

ANDREA: I think that cinema is….life, life is cinema and….. I don’t know, I’m really tired.

DONAL: Ok, that was a good answer, thanks.

I return to Luca and Alessandro. Luca’s stolen my camera.

LUCA: Now I’m going to interview. I’m not kidding. So, what do you think about Lucca film festival?

DONAL: It’s fantastic. I’ve had a great time.

LUCA: Yeah but it’s not enough. You have to talk more. It will be not an interview, you know.

DONAL: But that’s my tape. I don’t want an interview with myself.

LUCA: Why? Of course. You are at the Lucca Film Festival, you have to talk about the Lucca Film Festival. Why did you decide to come, how did you find your accomodation?

DONAL: It’s great. I only met the people I live with once, on the first day, and I’ve never seen them since. And every morning they leave me a little breakfast treat. So I have to think of a present to get them when I go. What do you think I should get them?

ALESSANDRO: Flowers.

DONAL: Some flowers?

LUCA: Some flowers, nah….

ALESSANDRO: Do you like flowers?

DONAL: I wouldn’t like flowers.

ALESSANDRO: This is the military’s question. “Do you like flowers?”

DONAL: They ask you that in the military?

ALESSANDRO: In Italy, yeah. Fortunately we didn’t have to do that, because they got rid of the draft in 1983.

LUCA: As the old men say here, you could have done better in the army. You need it!

DONAL: Is there any more champagne?

Alessandro gives me his glass.

DONAL: Drink yours?

ALESSANDRO: I can’t see other glasses. You’d have to stand up, and go there. It’s not comfortable. Anyway, that was one of the questions on the form, to decide if you are a normal person or not. I like flowers.

DONAL: So what was the greatest challenge of the festival this year?

LUCA: To drink a lot during the festival days. [We don't laugh; we're too busy drinking.] OK, I’m going to leave you guys…

Luca gives me back the camera and wanders off.

ALESSANDRO: It was transport, of course. Taking the guests, taking people, to where they have to live, where they have to stay, each night. I was lucky because I have no driving licence. So I just have to see these problems and try to think about them.

DONAL: Was there more guests this year than other years?

ALESSANDRO: Far more. Apparently there were something like 50 or 60 over the whole festival. I don’t believe it but I’ve been told this.

DONAL: Let’s talk about the audience. Is it difficult getting locals to come?

ALESSANDRO: Well, my idea is to…to bring Lucca, to take Lucca…to make people come from outside. Because I’m not in love with people from Lucca. That’s a euphemism… So I think indeed some people came from outside, from the northeast, also some people from outside Italy, there were a lot of French people… I’m not doing the festival in Lucca because I love the people of Lucca, but just because I’m living here. That’s where I live, that’s where I can do something. I would love people to come from New York, Toronto, just to see the films we’ve scheduled.

DONAL: So you’re not worried about getting local people to go to the films?

ALESSANDRO: [hesitates] I don’t care…. I don’t care because I… The problem is if you have a few people coming—well that’s what I’ve been told because I’m not inside these fucking little money things—you know the business. What I’ve been told is that if people won’t come, they won’t keep giving us the very little money that they do give us… I’d just love people to come because they love the films we’re screening, and maybe they love the atmosphere, because that is the festival for me. So if people from Lucca won’t, I don’t give a fuck, I don’t give a shit, you know. Is that the word in English? [laughs] I don’t give a fucking shit. It’s their fault, it’s not mine. The festival was here. But the problem is that—that’s what I’ve been told because I know nothing about that—if we don’t have a certain number of people coming, we won’t have money enough to that next year, or something like that.

DONAL: But some of the screenings seem to do quite well. Even the Snow films.

ALESSANDRO: Yeah, yeah. You saw last night, it was eleven o’clock at night, there was a lot of people. Yeah, I thought it was a success.

DONAL: How did you discover experimental cinema?

ALESSANDRO: There are some of us who don’t like experimental cinema at all. That’s what maybe Luca was telling you before, about the two different spirits. Well, everything all depends on what you mean by experimental. For example, my most favourite example is Adolfo Arrieta, because I really love him as a person and I adore his films.

[Adolfo Arrieta, left, announces the festival winners with Nicola.]

But some of us in the organisation, they don’t like them at all, his films. They also find them boring, which is for me the most, the furthest thing from what they are… You have to see them again. I will make you some copies. …There are one or two or three of us, who doesn’t like even Tam Tam, for example… That’s what I wanted to say. I can’t remember the question.

DONAL: It was about how you got interested in cinema, and avant-garde films in particular.

ALESSANDRO: Oh yeah, maybe I told you: the first edition was quite different, more traditional cinema… So we met some very interesting people right here at the festival. Pip Chodorov, who’s very important to me, because of his approach to to experimental cinema. He really is a master to me.

DONAL: What is it about Pip?

ALESSANDRO: The way he loves experimental cinema and he understands it. He distributes it, that’s his work. Yeah, that’s it. And we have the chance to see some films that very few persons can see, thanks to him, thanks to other guys who came. So it’s…we owe a lot to them, you know.

DONAL: How did you get interested in cinema as a kid? Did you start off liking commercial films and then discovered the “other” films?

ALESSANDRO: Well, if you call Buster Keaton commercial. I think that’s because of my uncle, I mean, you met him. … It’s a funny thing because once my house went on fire, you know? And I had to spend—this was more than 12 years ago—I had to spend a week, because I had asthma… the traces of smoke, you know, which were in my house. I couldn’t stay there, I went to my grandmother’s house where my uncle used to live, and he showed me a lot of beautiful things, I mean the silent films, for example, from the beginning… Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov, Buster Keaton… But I don’t know, we’re not talking about me…

DONAL: Well, I was asking about you.

ALESSANDRO: Maybe that was the beginning… My uncle was the first very important influence on me, and then Pip of course and Arrieta, who was introduced to us by Enrico Ghezzi. He just told us, there was a Spanish director that Marco Melani loved a lot, and nobody knew him (of course, nobody knows him now also). And he gave me the number of the Spanish national cinematheque, who should have the number of Arrieta, and so I called the cinematheque and they gave me the number of Arrieta and I called Arrieta… I didn’t know anything about him, and he knew nothing about me. I just explained him we were doing something on Marco Melani.

A charming bald man shows up. They laugh at “Pisa Merda”. Nicola shows up wearing a suit. We laugh at his suit (and also because he looks a little like Batman when he smiles).

ALESSANDRO: Sorry, I’m losing myself.

We laugh.

DONAL: It’s fine. It’s gonna look great.

ALESSANDRO: It’s not just because I’m drunk. I’m always like that. Even if I’m not drunk. I’m always losing… It’s not that I like to talk a lot; I don’t like to talk. Well, I like it but it’s not the reason that I talk… I like to talk with nice people, but I’m not talking so much because I like it. But just because I would like to be clear, and I never know—I never know—even with my best friends if I’m really clear or not so I keep talking and talking and explaining and explaining…I’m sorry.

DONAL: I feel the same way, even just speaking in English; I always feel like I’m not quite saying what I mean.

Alessandro nods in recognition.

I run out of tape so we decide to end the interview. As we get up to return to the rest of the drunk guests, Alessandro decides to mention one more thing. He asks me what I thought of See You Later (1990), a Michael Snow film consisting of one brief, brilliantly constructed image of Snow leaving his office at the end of the day, but slowed down so that it lasts for 18 minutes. I mention something about the meticulous composition and use of colour—Alessandro agrees, but adds (and you can see the passion building in his eyes) that what astonished him most about it was, while many experimental films create abstract images, See You Later managed to turn quotidian human movement into something abstract—that is something enchanting, alien, unidentifiable—yet still just a man leaving an office.

“It changed my life,” he tells me.

[The screening of Michael Snow's La Region Centrale (1971).]

Thanks to Chiara Caterina for the additional photos.

 

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